Transforming Storage and Accessibility at The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is home to the world’s greatest collection of portraits. In Spring 2020, the Gallery closed its doors to undergo a major transformation which included a complete re-presentation of the Collection, a significant refurbishment of the building, the creation of public spaces, a more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt, and a new Learning Centre.

This was the largest investment the Gallery had received in 30 years and it was the ideal opportunity to address a particular storage challenge they had endured for some time.

The challenge

The Gallery is home to the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. The Collection includes over 400,000 works, from the 8th century to the present day. Naturally, the full Collection cannot be on display all the time, therefore works will be rotated periodically. The Primary Collection has over 8,500 light-sensitive works on paper. These must be shown on a rotating basis to avoid excessive light exposure and minimise deterioration and fading.

When Collections are being rotated, they are held in an interim storage space. This storage space has been in use for over 30 years however it was not an efficient working space for the curators or the collections management teams. The incumbent picture racking (from a different supplier) was not fit for purpose. 50% of the racking couldn’t be used because of its configuration. This made rotating the Collection difficult and extremely inefficient. With half the racking unavailable to use, it created a bottleneck when bringing collections from the Gallery back to storage, and vice versa.

The brief

With the Gallery closed for 3 years, and investment in place, they wanted to take this unique opportunity to address the storage challenges of this interim storage space. Once the Gallery reopened, there would be more work rotations planned therefore optimising the storage space in terms of efficiency was vital to removing a problem they’d struggled with for many, many years.

MD Adam Lucas visited the site and reviewed the site designs. This allowed him to recommend a storage layout which Edward Purvis, Head of Collection Services, felt was the best use of space. These recommendations were important to the team at the Gallery.

Having worked with Polstore previously, the team were confident that Polstore would be able to supply, install and deliver for them as a client to a high standard.

The solution and installation

Good time management was essential to the success of this project. As soon as the contract was agreed, the Gallery team cleared the storage space of the previous racking. The new Polstore picture racking needed to be installed several months ahead of the grand reopening to allow the team to use the new storage space to prepare works for this momentous occasion.

Once the original racking was cleared, the Polstore team supplied and installed new picture racking which was far more efficient. Polstore picture racks are constructed from heavy duty mesh panels using 3mm wire in 50 x 50 square sections. Whether they are mobile or wall mounted, they can be built as double or single sided frames.

Picture racks are not only a great way to increase the amount of storage space available, they also offer increased visibility and accessibility. Picture racks can be mounted on a mobile base which allow the user to move the rack easily to aid retrieval. The picture racking Polstore recommended meant the Gallery was able to use 50% more of the space than prior to the transformation project.

Commenting on the installation process, Edward Purvis said: “Installation all went smoothly and was delivered on time.”

The result

The National Portrait Gallery reopened on 22 June 2023. Prior to that, the team had several months utilising their new storage space to prepare the works. The space was used to screen artworks coming back into the Gallery before going out on display.

Why Polstore?

Having previous experience of working with Polstore meant that Edward and his team could trust that they would be supplied with quality storage products which met their requirements.

“We had no issues with Polstore. They supply a year’s warranty for all their items and we are confident we have the relationship with the team at Polstore that we can go back to them should we need to. Being government funded we would still need to go through the procurement process but should the need arise for more storage solutions, we would certainly welcome the opportunity to work with the Polstore team again.”

If you’d like to achieve similar results for your workspace, speak to our highly experienced team about your next project. Contact us on 0800 008 6861 or email us at enquiries@polstore.co.uk.

We had no issues with Polstore - installation all went smoothly and was delivered on time. We would certainly welcome the opportunity to work with the Polstore team again.

Edward Purvis
Head of Collections Service

Gallery

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